Want to be more likeable, and considered good leadership material? Use your hand gestures wisely. Psychologist, Dr. Carol Gorman wrote The Nonverbal Advantage: Secrets and Science of Body Language at Work, and she says hand gestures can make or break people’s impression of you. Several studies found that people who gesture a lot are seen as warm, likeable, energetic, and truthful. On the other hand, people who keep their hands still, or whose gestures seem stiff, are seen as cold, insecure, and even untruthful.

So, let’s start with the gestures we shouldn’t use:

  • First: Finger pointing and wagging. It’s used by scolding parents, and politicians or executives to emphasize a point, or show dominance. But experts say aggressive finger pointing suggests you’re losing control of the situation.
  • Also, avoid self-pacifying gestures. People who are nervous or stressed tend to rub their hands, pull at their clothing, and play with their hair or jewelry. But that can make you look tentative, unprepared or insecure.
  • And be careful when you put your hands on your hips. It can come across like you’re stubborn or aggressive. So be careful when you do it. However, if you need to feel powerful and confident, DO put your hands on your hips. Experts call it the “Superman Pose” for a reason.

So, what hand gestures are positive?

  • Steepling gestures, that’s when your palms are facing each other and the fingertips of both hands are touching, like the steeple on a church. Speakers tend to use this when they feel confident and comfortable about a subject. It makes you appear knowledgeable.
  • Also, go ahead and use hand gestures of composure. Arms held waist high help you, and the people you’re speaking to, feel centered and composed. In fact, Dr. Gorman coaches executives to keep their arms at their waist, accompanied by a stance about shoulder-width wide. It helps keep them grounded, energized and focused.

But beware of over-gesturing, especially if your hands are above your shoulders. It can make you look frantic and less powerful because it looks like you’re out of control.

Lesson Expert

Jennifer Boller

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